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Neuroplasticity

There are two guiding voices in this document. The first is that of Andrew M, who
has provided the majority of the information; the other is that of Alfred
MacDonald, serving chiefly for inquiry and analysis.

Alfred MacDonald: What can you tell me about Neuroplasticity?

Andrew M: Since you haven’t mentioned anything in specific, I’ll give you a brief
runthrough.

Basically, anything from thinking to learning actually changes the fundamental


structure and function of the brain.

Think about it a little deeper than that. How could that possibly be true, if say,
things like our personality and intelligence are fixed by the time your brain stops
developing (around the ages of 16-18)? Clearly, there is a very fine line between
what is relative in our mind and what is set in stone. In the end, what’s at work is a
dynamic interplay of factors.

Alfred MacDonald: How are critical thinking and neuroplasticity related? That is, if
thinking and learning change the fundamental structure and functions of the brain,
how would doing things like thinking logically from an early age change your brain?

Andrew M: “Thinking logically” is a bit broad. It should be obvious to anyone that


teaching things to a child at an early age is going to have the largest influence on
their later years, because hildren are more apt to learn things at a young age, as
the brain is still developing (and incredibly plastic.) So, bringing up, for example, a
'little scientist' is going to change the way they think. But what does plastic really
mean, and why do these changes occur?

Its basis is biological. When someone like you looks at a brain, you see the
macrostructure; folds and whatnot, the different lobes, and the overall structure.
However, those folds and lobes on the microscopic level are masses of billions of
cells called neurons and glial cells, which can adapt.

Everything you think or perceive is a direct consequence of an electric current


through this intricate circuit structure of billions of neurons and glial cells.

Here’s a metaphor for what your brain is doing: imagine building a city, a metropolis
that housed every single person on this planet. The streets of this city are
equivalent to the neurons and glial cells (Neurons are like streets, and glial cells are
supporting structures, like signs, lights etc). The cars are the current running
through your brain.
Pretty complex, no? That's not even half the story. The catch is that neural and glial
paths are not static—they change. Neuron density can increase in certain areas, and
become lower in others. Areas that are highly trained tend to have higher neural
densities. If you look at the brains of intelligent individuals, they have more neurons
in key areas.

This is the real basis of neuroplasticity. The most fundamental fabric of your
existence is always changing in some way, adapting to things that you are thinking
and perceiving. Learning to think logically at an early age can help to strengthen
connections and increase the number of connections in key areas related to logical
thinking!

In order to answer why some things remain stable (such as your personality) is not
an easy task. There's no definite answer, but we need to get a bit philosophical to
consider one factor. Imagine a fully developed brain, with an electrical current
running through it in a complex circuit. That circuit determines what you do, what
you think, etc.

The catch is, as the classic saying goes, every action has a reaction. What is
happening at one point in your brain must, by consequence, affect what will happen
in the future. One neuron’s firing changes the activity of other neurons around it.

As such, regardless of the fact your brain is always changing, how it changes is
ultimately influenced by what already was! This leads us to a view of the mind that
is relatively stable.

Relation to Art and Philosophy with consideration to Andrew M’s


information

Alfred MacDonald: My view of this is simple. Essentially, you can be “born an


artist” or “born a philosopher”. That is, certain innate personality traits and certain
hereditary mental predispositions cause people to choose one occupation or field of
study over another.

For example, my mother is an artist. Even though for a long time I had been
opposed to the idea of doing any sort of art, I am a “natural” in creative domains
and have an ease with creativity that most people don’t.

Neuroplasticity enhances mental predispositions. If you teach someone to do one


activity or type of thinking from an early age, they will strengthen their neural
connections that makes that activity much easier as an adult. You have to do
different types of thinking as an artist, philosopher, lawyer, mathematician and so
on—so the more “automatic” your thought process is due to strengthened neural
connections the more of an advantage you will have.
I believe this is why it’s imperative to start learning languages and music at an early
age. The neural connections developed having done these things as children are
unbelievably strong.

Additionally, you can consider how this affects people who “aren’t good at math” or
“aren’t math people.” If you do very little math until way late into your teens, you
will not do well in a college math course—especially if your personality doesn’t
adapt to the situation easily.

Consider also how this affects people who can study well and who can’t. At my
stage in academics, I’ve internalized and made second nature many studying
techniques that were difficult to implement when I first was serious about
academics. From my experience, many Trinity students have been familiar with
these methods for a long time and intelligence plays a subordinate role in their
academic success.

So, as such, an artist or philosopher would be most strengthened by a family


environment (house, setting, interpersonal relationships, genes—especially genes)
that is conducive to art or philosophy. To increase the chances of success in that art,
an artist should “do art” as much as possible. Speaking from a distant, genetic
standpoint, it would make logical sense to marry those that would provide
opportunities for that—either by marrying other creative people, or someone
financially secure enough to provide for a life of constant immersion with art.
However, in practice emotional security trumps everything else and this type of cold
strategizing likely doesn’t take place often, if ever.

Still, if there’s one thing to take from Neuroplasticity, it’s that exposure to the
desired (either by parents or otherwise) material at a young age matters.